Apparent nooses found hanging from trees at Oakland lake spur debate, hate-crime probe

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said nooses found at Lake Merritt had “terrorizing effects.”
(Associated Press)

Oakland launched a hate-crime investigation after knotted ropes resembling nooses were found hanging from trees around a city lake, according to a statement from Mayor Libby Schaaf.

But later on Wednesday, the Oakland Police Department issued a statement suggesting that the five apparent nooses discovered near Lake Merritt could be part of an exercise routine or equipment.

Some neighbors expressed skepticism at that suggestion, and Schaaf noted that even if they were used for that purpose, it did not “remove nor excuse their tortuous and terrorizing effects.”

The ropes, found Tuesday morning, have since been removed.

“Symbols of racial violence have no place in Oakland and will not be tolerated,” Schaaf said in her statement.

There was wide debate on social media Wednesday on whether the knotted ropes were nooses or something else. The Bay Area’s ABC-7 interviewed a man who said the ropes were used to hook up a swing.

At a news conference, Wednesday afternoon, Nicholas Williams, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Youth Development, said while some of the ropes may have been used for exercise, “some of it absolutely was not.”

Blake Simons, an Oakland resident and co-host of the Hella Black podcast, also rejected speculation that the ropes were used for recreation.

“People don’t exercise like that,” he said.

“The rope was hella high up in the tree,” he said, noting there were many.

He added that Lake Merritt is a place where Black residents hang out and congregate, and this incident represents just one more act of racial aggression and “white supremacist terror” in a spate of recent, high-profile occurrences in the area.


In 2018, a white woman, later dubbed “BBQ Becky” on social media, called the police on two Black men grilling by the lake. That same year, there was “Jogger Joe,” a white man who paused during his run to dismantle and destroy a homeless man’s shelter.

Simons is not satisfied with the mayor’s response.

“This happened yesterday morning,” he said. “And she’s sending out a statement only now?”

In a statement issued by the Oakland Police Department, the law enforcement agency noted that it recognized “especially at this time ... any ropes on or attached to trees, limbs or other objects can be associated with hate crimes and racial violence.”

“We remind and ask our community to be mindful when using this equipment in a recreational manner,” wrote
Johnna Watson, the department’s press officer.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued this statement Wednesday.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued this statement Wednesday.
(Oakland Office of the Mayor)

The discovery of the ropes comes as much of California is on edge about potential racial violence. The FBI and California Department of Justice are monitoring investigations into the deaths of two Black men found hanging from trees in Victorville and Palmdale. Authorities initially said the men died by suicide.

The incident also comes as Oakland has been roiled by protests and property damage in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, as well as a federal investigation that revealed Tuesday that the man who fatally shot a guard in Oakland in late May had ties to a right-wing extremist movement known as “boogaloo.”